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Fact File - Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis literally means ‘porous bones’. This condition occurs when the bone structure becomes thinner and loses strength, resulting in the bones being more fragile and consequently causing them to break or fracture more easily following a fall. It affects both men and women but is most common in women who have gone through the menopause.

The wrists, hips and spine tend to be most commonly affected. This fact file focuses on the dietary aspects that can help maintain healthy bones.



Diet and Bone Health

Healthy bones are made up of protein structures filled with different minerals. The most known mineral for bone health is calcium. However, there are many others that are needed to complete the structure, which also include phosphorus and zinc.

A balanced diet, one that includes these nutrients needed for healthy bones, is particularly crucial in the first 30 years of life where bone strength develops. After the mid-thirties, it is still important to have a bone friendly diet to minimise bone loss.


Nutrients for Bone Health

No single food contains all the essential nutrients the body needs for healthy bones, which is why a balanced, varied diet is needed. However, some of the main nutrients discussed below are particularly essential for bone health:


1. Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is one of the main minerals needed for bone health, adults require between 700mg to 1000mg of calcium a day. Calcium is vital for strong teeth and bones. Our bodies contain about 1kg of this vital mineral and 99 per cent of it is found in our bones and teeth. Calcium rich foods include, all dairy foods and enriched alternatives, fish, especially sardines and pilchards, figs, apricots, spinach, broccoli, nuts (especially almonds and Brazil nuts) and soya foods. Aim to have two to three calcium rich foods daily. Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed more efficiently from our food and into our body. Most of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight. Oily fish and eggs are good dietary sources of vitamin D. In some instances such as during pregnancy, you may be prescribed Vitamin D supplements by your healthcare professional.


2. Phosphorous

Adults only require small amounts. Phosphorous rich foods include dairy foods, meat, pulses (beans, lentils and chickpeas), nuts and whole grains.


3. Zinc

This is found in a variety of foods, but particularly, meat (red and white), pulses, nuts, whole grains and dairy foods.


4. Vitamin K

There are various types of vitamin K, but the majority of dietary sources are from green leafy vegetables and dairy foods. Bacteria in the gut also makes vitamin K.


It is also important to ensure that you have enough protein in your diet. Having a protein rich food twice a day should ensure that you have adequate amounts, but not excessive. This is because the main structure of bone is protein and a lack of protein has been shown to contribute to bone loss. It is also important not to have an excessive amount of protein as this may increase calcium loss. Aim for a variety of protein-rich foods which include, lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs and pulses. Dairy foods are also rich sources of protein.


Other important factors for bone health:


Too much alcohol has been linked to increased risk of osteoporosis. If you drink alcohol, keep within the recommended limits - no more than 14 units a week for both men and women spread over at least 3 days if the maximum is consumed, with at least 2 consecutive alcohol free days a week.



A diet high in salt is not only linked directly to high blood pressure, but too much may increase the loss of calcium in the body. It is recommended that the daily intake should not exceed more than 6g a day (about a teaspoon). Hidden salt accounts for approximately 75% of our intake and is found particularly in highly processed foods and takeaways, whilst about 25% is added in cooking or at the table. As salt is naturally found in foods, there is no need to add more.



Weight bearing exercises are important to help strengthen the bones. The recommended minimum levels of physical activity is at least 150 minutes a week (2 ½ hours) of moderate intensity, for example brisk walking and cycling or half this amount if you choose vigorous intensity, for example, running and circuit training. You should also undertake weight-bearing exercises twice a week, for example carrying groceries or exercising with weights. Physical activity outdoors can also help top-up vitamin D from some sun exposure, however it is important if you are out in the sun, to take care to protect your skin from burning.



This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced November 2015. Date edited April 2016.

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